It seems fitting to quote the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. today, but I want to go not with one of his many inspirational passages, but rather with one that I frequently need to be reminded of because I would prefer to forget it. In his 1963 Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” King was speaking of race relations specifically, but his words are applicable to a wide range of social issues:
I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” — Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter From a Birmingham Jail.
Roughly four years later, in a speech at Riverside Church titled Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” King would approvingly quote the statement: “A time comes when silence is betrayal.” As a white moderate, one of my goals this year is to not be lulled into betrayal by a desire to avoid tension, to not remain silent when I should speak out. Please pray for me. I will need God’s help.